Well, I sure blew things in the last issue, because I forgot to include my lead off article. How absent-minded is that? But once I pull the trigger on the SEND button, there's no calling it back. Live and learn, hopefully!
I started on this issue within minutes of sending out the last issue. Reader Teddy Tedstone sent me an e-mail real quick like, wanting to sign up for PBMville: Wild West Shootout. Which was real nice, as the more guns blazing on PBMville's fictional PBM streets, the better. His character will be following close on the heels of reader Bryan Ciesielski's character who took to the streets of PBMville in Issue #14.
All of these PBMville players, whether they realize it or not, are guinea pigs. Just a real simple game, but a new game. How on Earth anyone can miss a turn, when you only have one order to issue (for now), is beyond me, but that ain't nearly as bad as forgetting to include an entire article. One of these Wild West villains likely rustled that article of mine, and made off with it in a clean getaway. I ain't saying that Richard Lockwood stole it, but he does look guilty as hell - plus he's done some crazy shit in his days as a PBM gamer.
Turn #14 also marked the entrance into PBMville of its very first NPC (non-player-character). You didn't really think that there was no law in this town, now did you?
Going forward, there may or may not be other players that choose to join the fray. I hope so, but I won't be losing sleep over it, even if nobody else signs up. So, where am I going with this PBMville mini-game? The hell if I know.
I don't even really know what to call it. It isn't played via postal mail, but turn orders are received via e-mail, and turn results are delivered via e-mail. So, technically, I guess that it's a PBeM game. It's also pretty much an off-the-cuff style of game. It was designed off-the-cuff, and players only issue one turn order per character, thus far. Now, whether players "evolve" to control multiple characters and/or to issue multiple turn orders per game, well, we'll just have to wait and see. Heck, I don't even know, yet, what all might transpire over the course of the game, not even know how long or how short that the game, itself, is going to last. It could turn out that players rapidly loose interest in such a simple design of a "game."
I am hesitant to even call PBMville a game, for there's not a lot of meat on the bones of it, though perhaps it has a little bit of imagination meat on the seemingly-fragile bones of its hastily-designed self. That said, unlike a great many PBM games, PBMville has both a player base and an audience - the readership of PBM Chaos.
Rather than the historical Wild West/Old West, it's erected around Western movies and myths that of the Wild West era of American history. So, gunslingers (which seems to be a term that came about well after the Wild West era) are commonplace, which is probably at odds with historical accuracy.
So, where is PBMville located, specifically? That's a question that I'm asking myself, this Wednesday morning while it's still dark outside (5:44AM EST). Honestly, I never gave that a clue, when I first set PBMville into motion. So, it's probably locate not far from a place called Imagination, USA. It's definitely out West, some place, but there's no actual 100% certainty. It's kind of like the Twilight Zone, in a way. It's populated by people (characters) who just sort of found their way at different points in their respective lives. I don't even have a map for it, other than the town map marked with all of the in-town location number son it that players are using as a visual guide to play by.
Part of what drives the creation and implementation of PBMville: Wild West Shootout is the line of thought that lives within me that creating a whole slew of new PBM games do not have to necessarily be an exhausting exercise. Heck, new PBM games don't even have to be particularly well thought out, either. Way back in the golden era of play by mail gaming, PBM players and PBM companies and PBM GMs seemed to have developed a tendency to look at PBM games as permanent creations, rather than games that were more temporary in nature.
Oh, sure, there were plenty of close-ended games in PBM's long and glorious (or inglorious) history, but that's not quite the same thing as PBM games designed with their very existence intended to be only temporary and fleeting in nature. What this approach brings to the table is that PBM gamers can benefit by having temporary boosts of imagination and fun injected into them, and that creativity in PBM game design has a real space of substance and size to flourish in. In theory, a lot more PBM games could come into existence in a much shorter span of time, this way. Whether players enjoy them or not, they would have more of a temporary quality to them, kind of like a play and toss or a play and burn approach to PBM game design.
If what new PBM game you design turns out to be perfect, event he best PBM game ever designed, fine. Or if your PBM game creation turns out to be a half-ass piece of crap, equally fine. here now, gone tomorrow (or two weeks, or three months, or whatever). Such temporary games would, I think, be ideal vessels to showcase particular, individual concepts of game design.
Maybe one such temporary PBM game would develop a really nice character system, whereas another one might be really good at certain aspects of magic in game design, or a third such temporary PBM game might bring large scare warfare in such a way that its players just fall in love with it.
I look at many of the PBM games on the market, today, both of the postal variety and the digital variety, and I can't help but to wonder why the selection of what PBM games to choose from is so relatively sparse. It really doesn't have to be that way. And, in fact, it's only that way, because the overall PBM gaming community chooses to allow it to be and to remain that way.
So, from that perspective, PBM gaming really is in an equivalent era of America's Old West time period. A vast terrain of possibilities, but woefully underpopulated by not just players and companies and GMs, but by ideas. The American Old West required courage of its inhabitants. And charting towards a new future for PBM gaming will require courage, also. And sacrifice. And good old fashioned ingenuity, which is not something that Americans hold a monopoly on, but rather, is something that inheres in the human species as a whole, regardless of nationality, background, or upbringing. Who knows? Even Richard Lockwood might have a little bit of ingenuity crawling around in the nooks and crannies of his mind.
Assuming he even has a mind, of course.
Temporary PBM games don't have to an actual end date. Rather, they an just ride off into the PBM sunset, and fade away into PBM history. They do not have to require long-term investments of time and effort. And the best part of it all? Temporary PBM games can run the gamut of whatever your imagination can come up with. In sum, temporary PBM games can be games that you, but not your children or grandchildren get to play - and by design, at that!
Right now, as of the time that I write this, there are nine players currently signed up to play in PBMville. It's not a large number, but it just might be a larger number of players than some actual PBM games that have been around for a while have, or pretty close, thereto. Do you think that I stress over how many players that PBMville gets? Nope, not at all. It's completely stress-free (which is not the same thing as free stress, if you might be wondering). The free stress PBM games are definitely the ones that you want to avoid. Unless you don't have enough stress in your life, already.
You don't have to have a big, fancy website, just to create and to run your own PBM games. You don't have to spend a lot of money. Actually, you don't have to spend any money, at all, to design and run your own PBM game. Sure, your new PBM game might not be counted by many old school PBM gamers, or by PBM purists (whatever the hell that term means), as a so-called "legitimate" PBM game, but why would you even care about that, at all? I don't, and I'm the guy who "runs" (::ahem::) PlayByMail.Net and its various PBM-related tentacles. I certainly don't recall having to ask anyone's permission to create and to launch and to run PBMville: Wild West Shootout, just as I didn't ask anybody's permission to create and to publish the original Suspense & Decision magazine, PBM Unearthed, and PBM Chaos (the latest imperfect brainchild of old man yours truly).
Let me let you in on a little secret. Rick Loomis didn't go around asking anybody in the commercial PBM industry if he could start creating and running PBM games under the auspices of Flying Buffalo, Inc.. Instead, he pioneered the entire field of commercial play by mail gaming. Do you think that he ever envisioned that more than a thousand PBM games by hundreds of different PBM companies would eventually flourish from that initial PBM seed that he planted? When Rick Loomis brought Flying Buffalo, Inc. into existence, there was no commercial PBM industry. But when Rick Loomis found discovered that commercial PBM honey, it didn't take long for the PBM bees to gather. And before long, people from all over the world were hearing the PBM buzz and tasting (playing) the PBM honey for themselves. Many even got stung by the habit of playing PBM games for years or decades on end. These days, and for a variety of different reasons, some think that the PBM bees are in trouble, and that the hives of individual PBM games may be dying - or even worse, already dead.
Think that you're not a PBM game designer? Well, I'm not really a publisher nor an editor, either. I'm just a guy who stepped up, one day, and who decided on my own to start trying to do some PBM stuff (whatever stuff is). Doing PBM stuff is a lot like hunting, or fishing, or girls' night out. PBM gaming isn't strictly a male-only "profession." In the span of its entire history, there have been all kind of women involved in every aspect of PBM gaming.
PBM games of every age and of every stripe (Wayne Smith is a Clemson Tigers fan, so I had to throw that in there just for him) all have their personal favorite PBM games. Personal favorites aside, do you know what the actual best PBM game is?
It's the one that hasn't been designed yet, that hasn't been created yet, that is still waiting to see the light of day. And YOU just might be the one who breathes life into it.
Don't worry about getting things wrong. And don't you dare worry about the possibility that you might inadvertently create some PBM Frankenstein of a game. The Creeper unit in Minecraft was never originally intended. It kind of took on a life - and a popularity - of its own. It was, in essence, a mistake.
Sometimes, even mistakes make the world a better place
And in this day and age, PBM could really use a few Frankenstein PBM games. The PBM pickings are a lot more slim than is healthy for the PBM industry and hobby to be a vibrant, thriving thing. If you only look at just the PBM industry and hobby, what you perceive to be the "big PBM companies" don't really have to compete. What are they competing against? The same old things. Tell me, and don't be shy about it - who is shaking up the PBM industry? Who's giving the PBM hobbyist fits? Name that PBM company. Name that PBM GM. Name that tune.
You can't move the PBM football down the field, if no one will play in the game. If you talk about PBM gaming, or if you just think about PBM gaming, whether a whole lot or just a little bit, then whether you realize it or not, you really are capable of designing your own PBM game. Heck, even I did that, and that was close to forty years ago. Starforce Battles, people, and don't you forget it!
Been there. Done that. But what about YOU?
The next time that PBMville crosses your mind or your field of vision, think about how much better that it could be. Think about what you would do different, if it was up to you? Think about how it could be expanded, and fleshed out. Think about everything that it's missing. Do that, and who knows? You might well be on your way to creating your own PBM game.
But if your name is Richard Weatherhead, don't think for even a second that I've forgotten about that article that you said that you were going to write.
Those Austerlitz players and fans, you've really gotta watch 'em like a hawk!